24 July 2015
Well, maybe. The Conservatives had EBacc for all as a manifesto pledge and now they have detailed what pressure they intend to put on schools to try to persuade them to make sure all pupils take all five EBacc subjects. Schools will not be eligible for Ofsted Outstanding status if they don't enter all students, in their proposals*. That sounds like a substantial threat - but is it?
In our recent Talking Heads discussion senior leaders told us that, yes sure enough, EBacc is putting pressure on schools to drive up the entries in the EBacc subjects and that some students are taking fewer GCSEs as a result. Schools have been doing this for some time, of course - probably for many, since they first saw their EBacc performance scores and got a shock.
However, things are changing and complications arise: the new P8 score was meant to be the only accountability measure for schools, according to Michael Gove: a poor performance would call down an Ofsted inspection. The new EBacc-generated bar on Outstanding is not quite the same pressure, however (what could be worse than an inspection?), so how do schools react to the new threat?
Well, they acknowledge that it's an additional pressure, but in the current financial circumstances, not the biggest. Music, for example, is under more pressure because of low student uptake, making classes in some schools too small to be viable. If pushing students towards EBacc hits music GCSE numbers even more, then schools would have even more unpalatable decisions to make. At the same time as cutting non-EBacc staff, schools would have to recruit more staff to cope with the increased numbers - and which subjects are hardest to recruit for? The worst are four of the five of the EBacc subjects.
And, if all this wasn't enough, there's also the increased levels of difficultly in the new GCSEs, higher pass rates, linearisation and removal of coursework: all likely to have an adverse impact on the less able: those for whom the more demanding EBacc subjects are more challenging.
So schools have to balance the needs of children, the reputation of the school, the difficulty of recruitment, the cost of redundancy payments and difficult financial pressures, in their decisions about whether EBacc should be for all. It's something of a relief that the needs of children continue to win out. A recent SSAT survey found:
- Only 16% of respondents said that they would make the EBacc compulsory if that was a requirement for an Outstanding judgement from Ofsted.
- 70% of respondents would refuse to teach the EBacc for all, even if that meant a ceiling of Ofsted Good for their schools.
- Over 44% of Outstanding schools would refuse to teach the EBacc for all, even if it meant losing their Outstanding status.
This does not look good for Nicky Morgan's ambitions to increase the number of pupils being taught in Outstanding schools and this is probably one of those initiatives that gets quietly forgotten about. Anyway, there's a consultation about it in the autumn, so let's see.
*Actually the DfE says: "pupils starting secondary school this September must study the key English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language at GCSE". This suggests that we have at least three years for everyone to forget about it.
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